Technology Shortfalls, Costs, and Logistics Among Impediments to Cargo Screening, Says Homeland Security Head

By Sherry Harowitz

Speaking at a congressional hearing on transportation security challenges, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano laid out the many impediments to achieving 100 percent screening of maritime cargo.

“Technology doesn't exist right now to effectively and automatically detect suspicious anomalies…. You have a high level of false positives. The speed of the through-port is very slow. You have lack of adequate anomaly detection,” she said.
Additionally, “even if you had a good technical system, recognize that you're dealing with 700 different ports around the world.  Having an adequately trained work force and the maintenance of these systems is an issue.” she said.
“Other challenges are logistical,” Napolitano added, explaining: “Many ports do not have a single point through which most of the cargo passes, which means that 100-percent scanning would either severely slow trade or require a redesign of the port.”
Another barrier is cost: “DHS equipment costs alone would be about $8 million for every one of the 2,100 shipping lanes at the more than 700 ports that ship to the United States,” Napolitano said. An EU study estimated that it would add 10 percent to the cost of shipping, she added.
Lastly, there’s the political challenge. “Most -- many countries around the world are very -- not just resistant to, but in some respects almost offended by the notion that we would install -- you know, require this at their port in their country.  So you have to negotiate each of those agreements separately,” she said.
The challenges and costs are why “DHS is compelled to seek the time extensions authorized by law with respect to the scanning provision,” she noted.
By contrast, Napolitano said that DHS was “at about 98 percent” compliance with the requirement for air cargo scanning, and the agency expects to make the August 2010 deadline.
Other issues were also addressed at the hearing.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who chairs the Senate Commerce, Transportation, and Science Committee, which held the hearing, raised the issue of cybersecurity and noted the importance of having a person responsible for cybersecurity who reports directly to the president. He plans to push for that legislatively.

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) raised concerns about the lack of attention being given to nonnuclear threats and other mass transportation modes, such as trains and buses.

Napolitano said that about $450 million has gone via grant money to localities to enhance transit security. She noted specifically that DHS is also deploying more portable monitors, more transit officers, and behaviorial detection officers under a program called SPOT.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) asked about concerns related to unionization and collective bargaining for TSA airport screeners. Napolitano responded that security and collective bargaining were not incompatible concepts.
Senator Mark Warner raised the issue of airports, such as that in Richmond, that made expensive security upgrades on promises of being reimbursed by DHS and have now been left holding the bag.
Senator Clare McCaskill (D-MO) raised another cost issue—noting that the cost of getting airport employees background-checked has risen from $3.00 to $27.00 per person. She called on the agency to put the contract out for competitive bid.
Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) pointed out concerns with crushing general aviation with too much regulation, but Senator Rockefeller exhorted Napolitano to “be bold” with regard to regulating the general aviation industry.



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